It's all about the money, honey. At least with ads, it is-- and so I've decided to cancel my adsense banners because they weren't working for me. That is to say, they weren't paying the rent. Not that I didn't find some of the ads that showed up on my site ve-r-r-ry interesting. And speaking of the advertising game (and rent) reminds me of Nancy. I met her in a New York City homeless shelter for women. Without elaborating much, she told me she used to work in advertising, right here in the Big Apple.
Nancy's appearance would never tell you she's homeless. She's petite, vivacious, with dark expressive eyes; medium length dark hair cut sylishly in layers. Ever the stoic, she drags her luggage on wheels around with her, looks like a business traveler. She chats with shelter clients, while juggling appointments with her lawyer, fighting a long running war with her landlord.
It's not hard to imagine her excelling in advertising, as she has a way with words easily translatable into a talent for writing copy. Her conversational style--lightning fast like that of most New Yorkers--delivers fragments of information heavy with meaning, liberally salted with brilliant one liners that make you laugh. "Gimme a dollah"-- an obscure reference to something said by another homeless person, in a context half forgotten, is one of her memorable lines. "You have to," she says, of the joking. There's nothing frivolous about this laughter. It's a survival skill.
"How did you get here?" is another of Nancy's lines. One might ask the same of her. She doesn't look the part, doesn't fit the "bag lady"stereotype. She makes a vague reference to "decisions" she made, and blames no one for her homelessness. Meanwhile, the battle with her former landlord rages on-- for access to her possessions, her furniture, that he seized when she couldn't pay her rent, and he locked her out.
She has "been through hell," but doesn't dwell there. Instead, she praises the woman lawyer who has helped her. She is moving forward, one step at a time and at long last, a corner has been turned, and Nancy says she can get her stuff, but some things, she doesn't want anymore. For one thing, she doesn't want the couch. "Too many memories," she explains, "of the past, of people who sat on that couch..."
A question is raised, about homeless people. Why they are homeless, how they got that way.
Nancy suggests that the homeless are "rebels," and in many ways this statement nails it.
Adds Audrey: "There's a little bit of independence here, in every one of these people. We don't fit into this scheme of things."
Nancy herself has alluded to her own "choice" not to continue to live the way she was living. Cynthia came here from Atlanta to chase her dream of singing professionally. A born activist, she stood up for the most vulnerable shelter clients during her stay here. Catherine, a devout Christian, rails against greed and skewed priorities. She believes Jesus will come soon to avenge these wrongs.
Here in "Homeless Lane," as Cynthia called it, nobody has any illusions about the system or the ways it works against them. The homeless are often victims of blatant social and economic injustice themselves, both before they become homeless and afterwards. But here there are no self proclaimed victims. Here in this shelter I could not find one who blamed anyone for her homeless status. Instead, they refer to choices they made. Rather than victims, they are seekers.
There was a school of thought, popularized during the Reagan administration, that said you can't throw money at social problems and make them go away. But I don't accept that. If you put enough money into the right places at the right times, you will solve many a social ill. Too many social ills are caused or worsened by poverty, and I've seen the success stories.
As Catherine so eloquently put it: "People are starving, and the government is studying the mating habits of cockroaches."